Cast: Ranveer Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Tanvi Azmi, Milind Soman, Mahesh Manjrekar
Director: Sanjay Leela Bhansali
At the outset itself Sanjay Leela Bhansali makes it clear that this film has less of history and more of creative contrivance harbouring its runtime. So don’t go expecting to see history here. The backdrop may take you back several years in time but the story telling is a lot more modern than one would have expected.
Take the love story between Bajirao Ballal Bhat (Ranveer Singh) and Mastani (Deepika Padukone). She seeks his help for defeating a pursuant enemy and promptly falls in love with his valor and dash. He flirts with her for a bit but returns to his home and wife, Kashibai (Priyanka Chopra) soon enough. Connecting the dots is an ancient betrothal custom in Bundelkhand, Mastani’s homeland.
Traditionally, any man offering his dagger to a unmarried damsel, signifies intent and custom has it that they are considered betrothed. Mastani, infatuated as she is by Bajirao, takes his gift at face value and pursues him to Pune, where she is faced with a cold reception from his mother Radha Ma (Tanvi Azmi). The reasoning behind that is Mastani’s Muslim origins cannot be acceptable in a purely Brahmin household.
Also there’s the dutiful Kashibai to contend with. A mujra or two later, Mastani gets Bajirao to make an offer of being a second wife and she happily accepts knowing that it’s not going to be all hunky dory from thereon. A son is born, his naming becomes a contentious issue, and Mastani and her son are imprisoned while Bajirao is on a mission to win victory for his Principality. Thereafter, it’s tragedy that follows.
The story itself may not be all true (even though it’s been credited as having been adapted from a book), but sheer obsessive genius of the presentation is what commands awe here. Every frame has been created with intricately designed flair. The lighting is exquisite, the patterns are amazing, the choreography is intrinsically eye-pleasing and above all it’s the performances by the lead artistes that inveigle you to invest your time and interest way beyond its merits.
Bhansali’s woman characters are usually ahead of their time and its true here too. Mastani is the one who makes the first move on Bajirao, she fights like a man, dances like a nymph and stays loyal to a fault. Kashibai, though hurt by her husband’s proclivities, accepts her fate and makes a strong effort to get Mastani and Bajirao back together.
And then there’s Radha Ma , who as Mother and matriarch, power behind the throne, wheels and deals to keep her family sacrosanct. While the love story is integral to the plot it’s the woman characters central to it that uplifts the telling.
While Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s opulent extravagance with palaces, forts, grandeur, majesty and presentation is visually gratifying, the lack of a strong believable storyline trumps the enjoyment. The costumes are beautiful even though there were times when some looked to be styles taken from 70’s films
Ranveer lives his role with great craft, Deepika showcases her strengths to great effect while Priyanka lends credibility to her role. The numerous songs that litter the narrative take away much of the enjoyment. The visual artistry on display and the tempered dramatics are what make this visit worthwhile.